Experts identify 45 'sacred' heritage sites

ST News Jun 3, 2014

Their suggestions follow call for a list to help foster love for country

HONG Lim Park fountain, Newton Food Centre and a Hakka memorial hall from 1887.

The first has played witness to many a speech at Speakers' Corner, the second is a well-known hawker centre from the 1970s to which tourists flock for a taste of local cuisine, while the third - Shuang Long Shan Ancestral Hall in Holland Close - tells the story of early Singapore immigrants.

These are just three of 45 structures, sites and buildings that heritage experts and architects here believe are worthy of conservation and can be seen as "sacred".

Their suggestions come after Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, called for working out a list of places Singaporeans treasure and declaring them national shrines as a way to foster love for the country. He suggested the Botanic Gardens, East Coast Park and old Chinatown.

The Straits Times, which has launched an online poll to piece together Singapore's top 10 favourite and sacred spaces, is inviting members of the public to vote for their top three structures and top three sites. They can also share their own suggestions and comments via the webpage from today until next Tuesday.

The votes will be consolidated and featured in a Sunday Times package in the coming weeks.

Prof Kishore wrote a commentary last month called "Prepare for a political crisis", in which he suggested cultivating faith in Singapore's key institutions, strengthening the multiracial fabric and fostering a love for the nation.

He called for 2015 - the Republic's golden jubilee - to be a year of "defining and expanding sacred objects and places in Singapore" so as to build a country rich in memories, which we would call home and readily defend.

Professor Kishore quoted Joel Kotkin, an urban geographer from the United States who has identified three great characteristics of cities: the safe, busy and sacred. Professor Kotkin said the Republic has excelled in security and commerce but lacks in the last quality. He called for more attention to be paid to the sacred which he defined as any unique institution or place "that (makes) one feel an irrational commitment to a place".

Heritage experts feel his suggestion is timely. The experts who contributed to the list include Singapore Heritage Society secretary and conservation architect Yeo Kang Shua, architects Chang Yong Ter, Lim Huck Chin and Tia Boon Sim; heritage enthusiast and blogger Jerome Lim, and civic group founder Kwek Li Yong.

Said Mr Kwek: "If we want to create a country that Singaporeans can identify with, we need to pinpoint and pull out such spaces, rediscover them and save them before they are swept away by redevelopment."

By Melody Zaccheus